Formula One’s excessive grid penalties are widely loathed by fans, as they’re confusing to follow. The FIA World Motor Sport Council simplified those penalty rules today, reports Autosport. Problem is, this fix doesn’t address why penalties get so out of control, and even more teams will likely face grid penalties in 2018 thanks to a dumb plan F1 just won’t give up.
Even F1 Managing Director of Motorsports Ross Brawn admitted that grid penalties made F1 a “farce” in recent years, and he’s not wrong. Teams were only allowed four sets of each engine component to use for the season, and had to drop a certain number of places down the grid for each additional component used.
So many teams took penalties towards the end of the season that the back of the grid was no longer actually determined by the qualifying session you watched on track. To call it “confusing” is one of the great understatements of our time.
The fix ratified today by the World Motor Sport Council caps the number of grid penalties one driver can get for a weekend at 15, or the equivalent of using two new engine elements for the first time during a race weekend. Anyone incurring more than a 15-place grid penalty will simply be sent to the back of the grid.
While this gets rid of the need to count out individual grid drops one by one, we’re still going to be stuck listening to long explanations as to why one car starts ahead of another car when both were sent to the back of the grid on the same weekend. Cars will be sent back to the grid in the order of who takes on too many extra engine components first—which, like this year, will happen in the garage, away from the fans.
The root of this confusing problem—not allowing teams to use more engine components per season—isn’t just still there under this so-called “fix,” but is set to become much worse in 2018.
Next year, F1 wants to drop the number of allowed engine components for the year to only three for the season. FIA president Jean Todt even reiterated to Autosport today that this three-engine plan remains unchanged.
Even front-running teams like Mercedes got hit by grid penalties for using extra engine components this year. Teams running less reliable Honda and Renault power were frequently playing musical chairs at the back of the grid in the latter half of the season. Their qualifying performance hardly even mattered at that point because they already knew that they would start from somewhere at the back.
Perhaps the three-engine rule could work when F1 moves to simpler—and hopefully more reliable—engines in 2021. To enact that change before the engine formula is reworked, however, is the opposite of what they should be doing to make F1's grid penalties less absurd. I hate to sound like Chicken Little, but this is going to be worse next year even if we don’t get to laugh about absurdly high numbers of grid penalties anymore.
If there’s one constant in racing, it’s that fans hate to see things decided off-track by a rulebook. By that measure, this so-called penalty fix is a complete joke.